cyclist in a yellow jersey riding on a gravel trail surrounded by aspen trees

Gravel Biking Explained!

Gravel biking is an endurance sport where the goal is not so much tackling Strava times, but getting out there on rural dirt and gravel roads. Your reward is often incredible views and a whole lot of calories burned. The intention is to cross through farmland and explore forest roads and even some singletrack. Gravel biking is a great way to “get out there” and enjoy new roads with less traffic.

What Constitutes a Gravel Bike?

A gravel bike is an adaptation of cyclocross (CX) and road bikes. A CX bike has a short wheel base intended for crisp handling and high-intensity bouts of pedaling over a defined course. A CX race is usually one hour plus 1 lap. A road bike is similar but designed to be as light and efficient as possible, and is mostly restricted to paved surfaces.

For added stability, a gravel bike features a longer wheel base and lower bottom bracket as compared to a road or CX bike. There will also be more vertical compliance designed into the frame. For the record, vertical compliance allows the frame to flex and better absorb vibration, providing a smoother ride at the expense of stiffness and efficiency.

In addition, a gravel bike will come with all sorts of rack mounts, and will often have the ability to accommodate 27.5 inch or 700c wheels, and tires as wide as 2.4 inches. All these options make gravel bikes more comfortable to ride over the long haul and on uneven or rough roads.

There is a grey area between these three styles of bikes. A cyclocross bike can be used for a 70 mile gravel race, and you could swap out the tires for something road-specific and do a century. Your road bike, if it has the clearance, could accommodate a treaded, wider tire and you could get out on some gravel roads easily – although it could be pretty uncomfortable over washboards or rocky, uneven roads.

Should You Buy a Gravel Bike?

Let me rephrase the question above: “Should you buy a bike in any form?” The answer is yes!

Bad jokes aside, gravel biking a terrific fitness and endurance option. It is relatively safer than road riding as you’re often off of high-traffic roads. And it’s low-impact – a bonus for your knees.

You also might be wondering if you can just ride a mountain bike on gravel roads. While that is often a suitable option, the body position awarded by a gravel bike is there for a reason. It saves time and energy. Engaging your drop bars and utilizing the “road bike” style position helps you break cross- and head-winds, and allows you to maintain a faster pace on long, flat surfaces.

Gravel biking is one of many cycling disciplines and options. If you’re looking for new adventures, overnight rides, bike packing, or just hoping to get lost on a winding dirt road – these bikes were built for just that. And they are inherently versatile, allowing you to ride on all sorts of surfaces and distances, whether you’re just making a quick jaunt to the store or riding the Great Divide trail. You can do it all!

By Paul Boyle, Production Manager, jans.com

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